ISSUE #8 — I am NOT Okay

Don’t Believe the Hype with Shirley Irizarry


ISSUE #8 —I am NOT Okay

May 28, 2024

My Dear Readers,

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. As Parent Organizers, we are constantly advocating for the well-being of youth and educators in our schools and communities, but it can be easy to forget our own.


This is my first blog since surviving a mental health crisis that forced me to take time off. During this period, I faced many negative behaviors and operated in a constant state of survival due to past unhealed traumas. For the longest time, my identity was centered around being a mother, daughter, sister, friend, community activist, organizer, and a myriad of other titles, none of which involved me taking care of myself. This goes against the very coaching I provide daily in advocacy, where I – encourage parents and community leaders to practice self-care as part of our service to others.

I also teach that the most important tool in any advocate’s and/or organizer’s arsenal is the power of their personal story and their willingness to be vulnerable. However, I failed to practice what I preach, prioritizing others’ needs before mine under the guise of service. I hid my depression and anxiety so well that no one could see my mental health was spiraling. I distanced myself so far from everyone that I started to believe I was all alone. It wasn’t until I was at my darkest that I finally reached out and asked for help, but by that time, I desperately needed professional assistance.

For three months, I received intensive medical and therapeutic help to address physical and mental traumas and engage in self-reflection to break cycles of low self-esteem and self-sabotage. I am no longer in that dark space, but I still have a long way to go in my journey toward being whole. I’ve learned several things about myself and the world around me that I wish to share with you, especially anyone who may be going through a similar experience:

  1. The hardest thing to do is also the very thing that will save you: Asking for help.
  2. I cannot take care of others if I am not taking care of myself.
  3. Forgiveness of self is vital to growth.
  4. Pouring as much into myself as I pour into others is the ultimate expression of self-love.
  5. Living in my truth opens the door for authentic fellowship with family, friends, and peers.
  6. Healing is an ongoing process, and I owe it to myself to deconstruct behaviors developed as defense mechanisms.
  7. I have to let go of my ego when interacting with others and not take everything personally.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1-in-5 adults in the United States experience mental health challenges each year, but only half of them will seek help. Fifty percent of lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24. But the average delay between symptoms appearing and getting help is 11 years.

During Mental Health Awareness Month, I encourage anyone feeling overwhelmed and overburdened to seek help anytime, whether from a trusted friend, spiritual leader, or mental health professional. You are loved and needed, and you deserve joy in your life.

Are you or someone you know experiencing a mental health crisis?

HELP IS AVAILABLE,  call 988 for 24/7 access to trained crisis counselors for help while experiencing mental health-related distress.